The power of sleep
One of the most common issues that my counselling and hypnotherapy clients want help with is sleep. Many come to visit me with other things going on in their lives, but poor quality sleep makes it more difficult for them to function fully in their daily lives. There can be no doubt in the power of sleep to help us repair, recover and rejuvenate our minds and bodies.
According to research, we are at greater risk of physical and mental ill-health if we don’t get around seven hours of sleep a night. Many of us don’t achieve this, and it can become more problematic as we get older. High levels of sleeplessness can put us at a higher risk of a range of problems – from the common cold to depression, heart disease, cancer and strokes. There is also a link with obesity and diabetes. Getting a good night’s sleep is as important for us as healthy eating and exercise.
10 tips for getting a better night's sleep
Here are my top tips for getting a better night’s sleep:
Stick to a routine - Sleep likes a routine, so try to keep regular hours. Going to bed at the same time every night, and waking at the same time every morning, can help to programme your body to have a better sleep. Try not to change this at weekends or holidays.
Make sure your room is comfortable - Create a restful place to sleep, and ensure that your bedroom is not too hot or too cold, that it’s quiet and as dark as possible. Also, think about your mattress and whether you need to think about changing it. Current advice is that we need to change our mattresses about every seven years.
Exercise - It can help to be physically active in the day. If you’re tired physically, then your body is more likely to want to sleep. This can be whatever suits you – a 30-minute brisk walk is ideal. Just don’t do too much exercise too close to your bedtime.
Avoid stimulating activities too close to bedtime - It’s a good idea to limit the amount of caffeine consumed, particularly after 5.00pm. Stimulants such as coffee, tea, cola and chocolate can make it harder to fall asleep and can disrupt your sleeping pattern. Be aware that drinking alcohol before bedtime may help you to drop off to sleep but you make be wakeful later on in the night as your body processes it.
Create a relaxation routine - Being relaxed before bedtime can help you to get a deep, restful sleep. There are lots of ways that you could try – having a warm bath, doing some gentle yoga, practising mindfulness or listening to relaxation audio. Calm and Headspace have produced some excellent sleep sounds and stories. Aromatherapy has also been shown to help, and some essential oils, such as lavender and geranium, are effective as an aid to sleep.
Get enough daylight - Research shows that people who get enough daylight tend to get a better night’s sleep. If you can’t get out in the daylight, you could try using a light box, designed to mimic outdoor light, rather than artificial light.
Avoid technology in the bedroom - TV screens, smartphones, laptops, iPads… all of these can disrupt the quality of your sleep because of the light that they emit. It’s a good idea to keep them out of the bedroom, and not to use them for at least an hour before your bedtime.
Watch your food intake - Eating a heavy meal close to bedtime can disturb your sleep, as your body is busy digesting it. It can also be difficult to sleep if you’re hungry going to bed. A light carbohydrate snack can help you to drop off more easily.
Deal with stress and worries - Easier said than done sometimes, I know, but try not to go to bed with a head full of worries. Perhaps you could try writing them down on Worry Strips, and giving yourself permission to deal with them at a set time during the next day. Some people find it useful to talk to someone else about their situation, to help them see it in another way. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) can be useful in challenging how your thought patterns affect your sleep.
Check out physical causes - Sometimes there are reasons why we can’t sleep well. It might be that you’re in chronic pain, or hormonal fluctuations are affecting how you sleep. Perimenopause and menopause can particularly affect our sleep patterns. Some medications can also be an issue affecting your sleep. If any of these might be affecting you, have a chat with your doctor.
Don’t worry about not falling asleep – the more you worry, the less likely you’ll be able to sleep. If you can’t sleep, get up and try something that you find relaxing, and then go back to bed when you feel sleepy.